With the ability of running on solar power, the Sun Rider may be a much required green solution to the hotel and tourism industry in India
At a time when going green and tackling global warming is at a high, less polluting or pollution-free motorboats are one solution that can prove useful to the tourism and hospitality sector.
The Sun Rider is just that—it runs on solar power and thus also helps in reducing operating costs as no fuel is required. Furthermore, an innovative design of the hull increases the speed and performance, while consuming less energy.
Genesis of the Sun Rider
Team Sustain, a Cochin-based solar energy solutions firm, experimented with the concept of a 25-seater solar boat last year. However, performance in terms of sailing speed was below expectations, the culprit being the boat’s hull design.
The hull design of a boat calls for a balance between speed, carrying capacity, and stability. For example, slender hulls give the advantage of speed and lower energy consumption, but the carrying capacity and stability gets compromised. The shape of the hull from fore and aft should be constructed for equal weight distribution. This ensures that there is no unwanted tilt (trim) in either direction.
This is where Navgathi, a Cochin-based marine design and boat manufacturing firm, stepped in with their uniquely designed dimensions of the hull. The hull of the Sun Rider is constructed keeping all these important factors in mind. “The uniqueness of the hull made by us is that the design betters the performance of the boat by consuming lesser energy and increased speed. In fact, the hull design we have made is as effective on any other ten-seater motor boat as it is with the Sun Rider,” says Sandith Thandasherry, CEO, Navgathi Marine Design and Constructions, on behalf of both the companies. Navgathi also came up with the alternate methods of construction for keeping the costs low.
|The Sun Rider 6.2 |
Technical overview of the solar boat
|Price: Rs 15 lakh approx.|
|Seating capacity: 9+1|
|(Price of a conventional motorboat [seating capacity of 8 to 10]: Rs 5.5 lakh onwards)|
|Top speed: 6.5 knots or 12 kmphe|
|Time taken to charge batteries fully from zero: 4 hours|
|If zero charged: Will sail at 3-3.5 knots under direct sunlight|
|Continuous running at 6.5 knots: 3 hours (batteries full to zero)|
|Continuous running at 3-3.5 knots: 9 hours (batteries full to zero)|
|Maintenance of solar panels: Wiping with water daily|
|Life of solar panels: 25 years|
|Life of batteries: 5 years|
|Warranty on electric torqueedo motors: 1 year|
How does the Sun Rider function?
The Sun Rider has batteries that are charged through five solar panels on its roof. These panels are fixed on the roof for maximum exposure to sunlight. Each panel produces energy of 180 watts per hour. Hence, in an hour the total energy produced is 900 watts. The solar panels take four hours to charge the batteries, producing 3,600 watts of solar energy. The energy absorbed from these panels is transferred to charge the set of batteries through control switches. The batteries then inject the charge into two electric torqueedo motors that in turn drive the propellers to gain speed.
|Advantages and Disadvantages|
|Advantages of the Sun Rider|
|Disadvantages of the Sun Rider|
So how much run can you expect after a full charge? The Sun Rider can run for three hours continuously at its top speed of 6.5 knots (12 kmph) on the water current of rivers. With its hull design, power consumption is reduced by almost one-fourth when the speed of the Sun Rider is halved. In a situation where the battery drains out, the boat can run at a speed of 3 to 3.5 knots while charging the batteries at the same time. This, of course, depends on the availability of direct sunlight. When there is no sunlight available, the batteries can be charged by electricity.
|Rough break-up of costs involved|
|Torqueedo motors: Rs 2 Lakh (2 such motors deployed)|
|Solar panel: Rs 50,000 (5 such panels deployed)|
|Batteries: Rs 1.5 lakh per set|
|Batteries used per set: Undisclosed|
|Power capacity of each battery: 12 volts|
|Power capacity of a set of batteries: 600 AH|
|Cost involved in building hull: Undisclosed|
|Start of production: After launch, only on orders|
How and where is it manufactured?
In case of conventional motorboats the hull cannot be constructed without a mold—a temporary form to shape the boat. Typically, the hull and the mold are made out of fiber glass. The mold is reusable in the construction of other hulls as well.
In the case of the Sun Rider, a wooden mold is used to construct the hull. The benefit of this is that it saves on cost almost two times. The disadvantage, however, is that it cannot be reused for constructing other hulls.
“The construction of the Sun Rider is done by a variety of skilled laborers,” says Thandasherry, “For instance, the mold is made by experienced carpenters, the hull is constructed by fiber glass workers, and other laborers undertake miscellaneous elements such as welding.”
The research and development facility of Navgathi is the limited basement space of their office of around 1,000 square feet. It is in this space that 10 laborers work on fiber glass, five carpenters work on the mold, three laborers work on stainless steel fabrication, and some more technicians actually construct the Sun Rider.
|"The uniqueness of the hull made by us is that the design betters the performance of the boat by consuming lesser energy and increased speed." |
The market approach
The Sun Rider is scheduled to be launched at the backwaters of Cochin, Kerala, some time between March and April 2009. The first unit was constructed with an investment of approximately Rs 15 lakh. The manufacturers plan to roll it out around the cost price. The government and some private players from the hospitality and tourism sectors are expected to place the first lot of orders.
“Assuming a decent market response, Navgathi plans to manufacture at least five such boats by the end of 2009 and take the figure up to ten next year. The output might also go up, given the interest of investors,” says Thandasherry.
Both Navgathi and Team Sustain are small companies with limited funds in their pockets. Even though they are continuously putting in efforts to minimize the cost factor, the investment required for manufacturing solar boats is huge for them.
Manufacturing space is another challenge. Thandasherry says, “Typically, construction of a motorboat would require an ideal space of half an acre. Half of this area should be a sheltered, controlled environment where the hull is made, while the rest can be used for outfitting and storage.” Navgathi does this within the constrained space of their office basement because at this point they cannot invest in more.
The lack of skilled manpower to construct such boats is again another challenge. If finding people isn’t difficult enough, hiring for the construction and technical work is another big issue. To add more difficulties, a dearth of specialized equipment and the finances required for installing them pose problems too.
Southern India, with its beautiful and scenic backwaters, attracts many tourists annually. As of now, motorboats are good in demand. As an example, Thandasherry says, “The backwaters of Kumarakom in Allepy, Kerala, alone have around 500 houseboats sailing on them.” He is sure that once the idea and its benefits are understood, the Sun Rider will be much sought after. Besides Kerala, other destinations like Udaipur in Rajasthan and Goa have such requirements for their tourism industry.
written by Boat Covers, December 01, 2010
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